To acquire wisdom, one must observe

‘The Whale’ is a fascinating yet emotionally draining character study

“Do you ever get the feeling that people are incapable of not caring?” This question is pondered in Darren Aronofsky’s film “The Whale.” This is a film that is meant to show that even if there may be some bad qualities in people, there may be some good qualities that lurk underneath, and vice versa. The film is a study of many different flawed characters, and gives a deeper look into their motivations. It is about relationships between a father and daughter, between friends and relationships with the past. There is a lot happening with this film and can almost feel overwhelming to the senses. That being said, there was a wonderful story being told that deserves to be heard. With stunning performances and storytelling, “The Whale” has a lot to offer. This film was released in theaters on Dec. 9, as well as being made available for rent. So if you have around two hours to spare, this could be an exciting way to spend those hours.

Charlie (Brendan Fraser) is an English professor that teaches at an online college. He always keeps his webcam off during classes because he does not want his students to see him. Charlie is over 600 pounds and is gaining more weight by the day. The weight gain started out of depression after his boyfriend died. His only form of support is his friend Liz (Hong Chau) who, luckily, is also a nurse. As Charlie gets weaker, Liz tries to get him to a hospital, but he does not have health insurance and he has accepted the life he lives, the life he is almost done living. Charlie decides, in his weakened state, that he is going to reconnect with his 17 year old daughter Ella (Sadie Sink), who he has not seen since he left her mom after coming out nine years ago. Ella is bitter that her father left, but she is also bitter about the world in general. Meanwhile, a missionary Thomas (Ty Simpkins) is trying to help Charlie find his path, and Thomas thinks that God can save Charlie. However, the last thing that Charlie wants is for God to save him. Truth be told, Charlie can’t be saved, and he doesn’t want to be saved.

The reason for this film’s success lies in Fraser’s performance. Charlie is certainly a challenging role to play. This is a character that every time he laughs, he wheezes, and yet he still wants to appreciate the positive parts of life. He is a man close to death, but is trying to put value in what he has left in life. Fraser played this part amazingly, and it will probably be difficult to have a dry eye after watching him act. If he does not win Best Actor at the Oscars, it will be a travesty. The supporting performances were also wonderful and everyone played off of Fraser well. Chau did a great job as the straight man to Fraser’s wild emotions and situation. Her character is there to help make sure Fraser is alive and to make sure he does not go insane. Chau presents this calm energy required for the part very well, giving an understated yet memorable performance. I also felt that Sink did a great job with her role, basically in the opposite direction of Chau. Sink’s part is meant to be not very likable, a moody teenager dialed all the way up. Despite that, or maybe because of that, I found her performance fascinating. Layers of her performance were peeled back over time, and we saw her moodiness at full force. Sink is known for television acting, with her success on “Stranger Things,” but this could be the role that allows her to break out in the film world. When there is not a lot of action, performances can make or break a film, and these performances certainly make “The Whale.”

Many people have described Darren Aronofsky’s films as being the best films that they will never see again. In films like “Requiem for a Dream” and “Black Swan,” he takes audiences through a surrealistic journey that leaves them reflecting deeply about life and their viewing experience. “The Whale” is no exception. When the movie first starts, it is clear that this is going to be tragic, but it doesn’t immediately strike into the psychological thrill of it all. However, as the film progresses, your eyes are glued to the screen and the outside world fades away. Every single minute of this film is important and will cause you to think about your own morality and mortality. Without spoiling the film, I felt there were some parts in the third act that felt a little unbelievable, but this was a strong script overall. This was definitely a sad film, and you will definitely feel emotional once the film is done. There is not really a second to breathe, there is constant drama. I was certainly captivated, and it stayed on my mind. Be warned, there are some shocking scenes and elements to this film, so if you get a little squeamish, this may not be the film for you. That being said, if you get past that, you can see how it all works.

One of the most fascinating parts of this film was the setting, in that there was only one location. The entire film took place in Charlie’s apartment. This is not to say that there is anything special about his apartment. It is fairly small, dirty and dark. It makes for a good representation of Charlie’s head space. He is trapped in his own mental world of fifth and sadness, much like his physical world. There is also the fact that lighting is very muted, as in there is not much color shown. This immediately lets the audience know that there is supposed to be a depressing tone for everything. This film is a great lesson in mise en scene. Even if I watched this film on mute, I feel I could understand how I am supposed to feel watching this film. The people behind the scenes hardly ever get appreciation for their job, but their importance was clearly shown in this film.

No one enjoys confronting their inner demons. That is what makes this an uncomfortable experience for the characters on screen, as well as a slightly uncomfortable experience for the audience. However, the audience is uncomfortable in a good way, if that makes sense. This is not a story where everyone becomes perfect and it is all tied up neatly with a bow. It shows the harsh realities that some people live in. Instead of ignoring those realities, we should learn more about them. It is hard to compare “The Whale” to another film as it is so unique. This is a film that is structured like a play while giving the unsettling feeling that is only possible through film. This film has been fairly divisive, as it is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. However, I was completely enthralled by this film and I encourage people to see it. If you want to face the disturbing sides of reality or get a master class in acting, watch “The Whale” today.

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